Skip to Content

The Correct Medical Finger Numbering System – How Doctors Assign Numbers to Hands and Digits Full Guide of 2024

This site is supported by our readers. We may earn a commission, at no cost to you, if you purchase through links.

What are the digit numbers for fingersYou know those 10 unique masterpieces at the end of your arms? Your talented fingers—paintbrushes that create beauty in everything you touch. The thumb is digit #1. Your sturdy pointer taps into #2. The middle reigns majestically as #3.

#4 is reserved for the delicate ring bearer. And your free-spirited pinky is #5. Though labeled with numbers, each has a character all its own. Let’s peek into the system doctors use to identify our trusted digits, and remember what makes them special.

Key Takeaways

  • Fingers are numbered 1-5 in medicine, with the thumb as digit 1 and pinky as digit 5.
  • The radial side of the hand faces the thumb, while the ulnar side faces the pinky finger.
  • Radiologists commonly use numbers to identify fingers, while physicians often use names like thumb and index finger.
  • Utilizing clear names for fingers facilitates communication regarding hand injuries between healthcare professionals and patients.

How Doctors Number Fingers

How Doctors Number Fingers
You’ll find ER docs call your thumb 1 and pinky 5, though it conflicts with the common names we use. The medical numbering causes confusion when you describe injuring your middle or ring finger. Name your fingers to avoid ambiguity. Your thumb is digit 1, index finger digit 2, long finger digit 3, ring finger digit 4, and small finger digit 5.

Don’t use medial or lateral for hand sides – use radial for the thumb side and ulnar for the little finger side. The top is dorsal, with your nails, while the bottom is volar or palmar. Using the medical terms precisely localizes hand injuries.

Understanding the anatomical numbering and naming clarifies communication between patient and physician.

Why Use Names Instead of Numbers?

Why Use Names Instead of Numbers
Don’t fumble with finger numbers, friend – use everyday names like pinky and ring to thumb your nose at confusion. Medical coding labels digits 1-5 starting with the thumb, but most folks don’t think that way.

  • Thumb
  • Pointer/Index
  • Middle
  • Ring
  • Pinky/Small

Confusion prevention relies on substituting medical digit naming with everyday finger identification tags. Small finger, ring, middle, index finger – those anatomical communication handles make medical coding clarity easier.

Finger Side: Radial Vs Ulnar

Finger Side: Radial Vs Ulnar
You’re on the radial side if you face your thumb, ulnar if you face your pinky. When describing hand anatomy, it helps to use the forearm bones as reference points. The radius refers to the radial side, while the ulna refers to the ulnar side. This aligns with the thumb and pinky fingers respectively.

Using these anatomical terms provides clarity when discussing hand injuries or medical conditions. De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, for example, affects the tendons on the radial side of the wrist. Precise anatomical language helps convey location accurately in medicine and daily discussions.

Referencing radial versus ulnar sides eliminates confusion when referencing fingers or the hand.

Bone Side Facing
Radius Radial Thumb
Ulna Ulnar Pinky

Finger Surface: Dorsal Vs Volar

Finger Surface: Dorsal Vs Volar
You flip your hand over to see the creases across your palm. When describing the hand, it’s important to distinguish between the dorsal and volar surfaces:

  1. The dorsal surface is the back or top of the hand, where your knuckles and fingernails are located.
  2. The volar surface is the palm side of your hand, containing the palmar creases and fingerprints.
  3. In medical terminology, dorsal refers to the posterior or back side of body parts like the hand.
  4. Volar indicates the anterior or palm side of structures such as the forearm and hand.

The dorsal and volar distinction applies to all five digits. For example, a dorsal hand laceration would be on the back of the hand, while a volar wrist sprain affects the inner wrist near the palm. Clearly differentiating between these anatomical terms allows precise communication about hand injuries and conditions.

Understanding hand anatomy, from finger numbering to identifying the dorsal and volar surfaces, improves clarity for both patients and providers.

Hand Side: Radial Vs Ulnar

Hand Side: Radial Vs Ulnar
To see why radiology beats anthropology, look at your hands: your thumb’s on the radial side, right where the radius bone is.

Digit Number Finger Name Side
1 Thumb Radial
2 Index
3 Long
4 Ring
5 Small Ulnar

The thumb lies along the radius bone on the radial side. Opposite, on the ulnar side, is your small finger next to the ulna bone. Your index through ring fingers fill the middle anonymously. But radiologists name them with numbers, while doctors use proper names to avoid confusion.

Either way, unlike most animals, our five distinctive digits empower human dexterity.

Common Causes of Confusion

Common Causes of Confusion
The medical community’s numbering system causes confusion when chatting about your middle or ring finger. As a child, you learned to count starting with your thumb as one. This intuitive numbering stays with you into adulthood.

When a doctor asks which finger was injured and the time of the set injury, it’s harder to rapidly convert your middle finger into three or your ring finger into four. Using common names like thumb, index, middle, ring, and pinky reduces complexity.

While a selective advantage drove our ancestors to evolve five digits on each hand, some polydactylous frogs sprout extra fingers.

Tips for Clear Communication

Tips for Clear Communication
When communicating about the hand, using proper anatomical terms for each digit prevents misunderstandings. Numbering the fingers medically as the thumb = D1, index finger = D2, long finger = D3, ring finger = D4, and small finger = D5 clarifies which digit you mean.

  • Refer to digits by name – index, middle, ring, etc.
  • Avoid finger numbers – use anatomical numbering if needed.
  • Orient sides by radius (thumb) and ulna (pinky).
  • Know dorsal (back) and volar (palm) surfaces.

Using the proper terms for hand anatomy fosters clear communication between medical coders, care providers, and patients. Precise finger identification prevents errors in diagnosis and treatment for injuries.

When describing injured hands, say index or thumb instead of one or two to boost shared understanding.


You find yourself at a crossroads, wondering which path to take. The signposts point in different directions, their numbers seeming arbitrary. Yet like the rivers that converge here, each trail has led you to this moment. Listen to your inner voice; it whispers the way forward.

Heed its quiet wisdom, letting it guide your steps. The journey continues, but with care and purpose. Look down at your hands, see the roadmap inscribed there. Trust in your own direction – the path is illuminated from within.

Avatar for Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim is an author and software engineer from the United States, I and a group of experts made this blog with the aim of answering all the unanswered questions to help as many people as possible.